Remembering Robert Hermann

Staff report

Robert Herrmann, a 31-year resident of Lopez Island, died on Oct. 1 at age 65.

He was an instrumental member of the community, owning several businesses, mentoring island kids and volunteering as a performer and emcee. Herrmann was known throughout San Juan County for his quick wit, style and zest for life.

In 2007, he and his partner Ron Hall won the Lopez Spirit Award. In December 2012, Herrmann and Hall were one of the first gay couples to receive a marriage license in San Juan County.

He told the Sounder at the time, “This is affirming. I feel like a full citizen now. Straight people don’t have the experience of being called names and ridiculed.”

The two exchanged vows a few days later in a private ceremony at the courthouse and later held a colorful, community celebration at Lopez Center. At the time of Herrmann’s death, the two had been together for 23 years.

“The breeze gently blowing through the silks and satins hanging from the ceilings, Indian music wafting through the building – it could only be Robert Herrmann and Ron Hall’s Big Fat Bollywood wedding,” their friend Lynne Keeley wrote of the experience. “Fabulous decorations, equally fabulous food, and a dance performed by Lopez beauties in colorful saris; an unforgettable time.”

Colleen Smith, publisher of all three island newspapers, said her life as a young adult was shaped by Herrmann and Hall.

“Ron hired me at the Islands’ Weekly when I was 14 and it set the course for my current career path. I also worked for Robert at the Fishbay Mercantile all through high school. He and Ron also opened their home to me for my first house-sitting job,” she said. “Watching Robert perform in local shows and hearing his stories about Broadway and musical theatre were incredibly fascinating and ignited a spark in me. I was obsessed with ‘Hair’ and he gave me a black and white photo of himself performing in the show at age 17. I often think of him when I step out on stage. Robert helped me buy my first piece of fine art; he gifted me with a certificate for my first massage; he gave me my first cup of really good coffee; he taught me how to count back change; he taught me it was acceptable to own hundreds of bottles of perfume (my collection can never rival his!); and he taught me that if you can’t do something with passion, it’s not worth doing.”

Lillian Ewert was also deeply impacted by Herrmann during a critical time in her life.

“Robert has been in my life ever since I can remember,” she said. “Our senior year of high school we all took an independent yoga class aka we would go get coffee at Caffe La Boheme. Robert was always so excited to see us and us him. We filled him in on the gossip, and he always had the best comments that would make us howl with laughter He was an honorary member of our girls’ group. When I graduated college I moved back to Lopez and worked at Paper Scissors. This is when I really got to know Ron and Robert as a couple. They both saved my life those six months after college. It was a transitional time for me and they were there to help me navigate it through humor and loving advice. Robert is one of those people that you can’t imagine a world without. I’m dreading coming home to a Lopez where Robert isn’t physically there. BUT the best thing about Lopez is that we know how to continue to talk about the people that shape our community even after they leave this world. I will never ever forget the stamp that Robert has left on my heart and I will continue to tell stories about the amazing man he was.”

Long-time friend Mary Jenison said, “Robert has had an amazing impact on our lives. We met him when he owned the Inn At Swift’s Bay. Our youngest daughter worked housekeeping for the inn. She learned so much about people, cleaning and much more. Robert was a fantastic role model and loved to hang out with people of all ages. As we grew to know Robert, we could only love him more, his charming wit and sassiness was infectious. We had the great pleasure of traveling with Robert and Ron to Thailand, not once but four times. We couldn’t ask for better traveling companions. … Robert lived life to the fullest and will be in our hearts forever.”

Herrmann was one of the first people who Bob Wood met when he moved to Lopez in the late 1980s.

“He was a big supporter of my cafe (the Bay Cafe) and always offered to help out if we were swamped, even as he was running a charming and well-known B&B here on the island at the same time,” Wood remembered. “We shared many evenings of food and laughter at the cafe or at the inn. We would go on spontaneous outings to Victoria or Sucia on one of Island Marine Center’s boats, his beloved dog at the time, Max, in tow. Later in our lives, we traveled together to Thailand with a group of Lopezians where we sang and danced the day away on a deserted island in the Andaman Sea, nurturing our shared but separate youthful experiences on stage. … Robert had a lot of talents. His eye was great for design, and his actions were generous toward others. He also had an exceptional palate which may have led to his fragrance work later in life. He was a consummate retailer. He taught me the meaning of Archie McPhee. … Robert lived a full life, interacted with and supported many friends here on the island over the years. … Robert loves Lopez and Lopez loves Robert. We were lucky to have him here and continue to be fortunate to have Ron on this island. They are both treasures.”

Lopez native Shawn Westervelt said, “I don’t know how to remember, mourn, or honor Robert in a paragraph – nor how to capture the range of his character, the depth of his love or breadth of his impact with any quantity of words. Words for that purpose would have to be carefully chosen and intentional, meaningful and intelligent, yet at the same time unexpected, edgy, maybe even a little ‘scandalous.’ Certainly, they would have to be spoken not written. No black and white, two-dimensional verbiage could ever reflect the sparkle, the color, the complexity, or the flair required to describe our beloved Robert.”

Westervelt called Herrmann an “integral part of Lopez culture” and that his departure is “kin to removing a note from our scale, a piece from our puzzle or a color from our crayons.”

“We will strive to honor him and fill the void to the best of our ability with what we have remaining, but ultimately, we cannot reproduce and will always miss, the harmony, authenticity, and kaleidoscopic beauty the word ‘Lopezian’ held when it included Robert,” he said.